No significant rise in cancer deaths in 3-Mile Island residents over 20 years, says Pitt

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 1 In a 20-year follow-up study of mortality data on residents living within a five-mile radius of Three Mile Island (TMI), researchers at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) found no significant increase overall in deaths from cancer. The findings were published Friday, Nov. 1, on the Web site of Environmental Health Perspectives, http://ehis.niehs.nih.gov, a journal of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The paper will appear in the March 2003 issue of the journal.

"This survey of data, which covers the normal latency period for most cancers, confirms our earlier analysis that radioactivity released during the nuclear accident at TMI does not appear to have caused an overall increase in cancer deaths among residents of that area over the follow-up period, l979 to l998," said Evelyn Talbott, Dr.P.H., professor of epidemiology at GSPH and principal investigator on the study. Dr. Talbott's previous study, published in the June 2000 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, analyzed 13 years of mortality data.

The TMI incident occurred at a nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pa., on March 29, 1979, when a reactor leaked small amounts of radioactive gases. Scientists have calculated that the average person present in the area during the 10 days following the incident was exposed to considerably less radiation than the annual dose an individual receives from the everyday environment in the United States. However, little is known about the long-term health effects of low-level radiation.

The current University of Pittsburgh study examined causes of death that included heart disease and malignancies as well as specific cancers known to be sensitive to radioactivity: bronchus, trachea and lung; breast (women only); lymphatic and hematopoietic tissue (blood-forming organs), excluding chronic lymphocytic

Contact: Kathryn Duda
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

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